In a world ruled by smartphones, SMS messaging is one of the most simple and cost-effective ways to reach your customers. Here’s how you get started.

Getting started with your first SMS marketing campaign

Last week, we gave you 6 reasons to try SMS marketing in your small business. We discovered that it’s one of the most valuable direct marketing tools in your toolbox because everyone has a smartphone on them, and 98% of people will read their text messages within minutes of receiving it. This week, we’re going to discuss what you need to know to run a successful SMS (text message) marketing campaign.

There are a few things you might find useful to know before you hit “send” on that message for your new SMS marketing campaign. We’ve answered some questions here you might have here, but feel free to leave any others in the comments.

Let’s start with what to say. Some business owners have said they’d like to do an SMS campaign, but they don’t know what to say.

What do I say?

In an SMS marketing campaign, you have the challenge of boiling down your message into 140 characters or less. Derek Johnson, CEO of SMS marketing company Tatango, says that there are four key elements to the perfect SMS message.

1. State your offer

Start your message by stating what your offer is. Most phones will show a preview of the message on the lock screen, and you’ll want your offer to be in this preview. When your recipients read the message, they will most likely already have decided if they’re interested or not after they’ve seen the offer at the start of your text.

2. Identify yourself

Identify yourself in the first few lines of your text message so that your customer knows who you are as they read the message. SMS campaigns often come from numbers that aren’t saved in address books, so don’t expect many people to turn up to your business from the SMS marketing campaign if you haven’t told them who you are.

3. Ask them to show this text, or use this code

Asking your customer to show the text message at reception or use a coupon code at your business will let them know that it’s an exclusive offer. If it’s something that you’ve also been sending out through email or promoting through social media, it won’t have the same effect on the customer. This also works well for you so that you’re only giving the deal to the people you’ve sent it out to.

4. Add an expiration date

There are two reasons you’ll want to add an expiration date to your offer. Firstly, there’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than showing up to a business expecting an offer only to find that it has expired. Secondly, it will add a sense of urgency to your offer – if it’s open ended, there’s no reason for them to take you up on it any time soon.

With the four key points in place, your text message could look something like this:

Offer: $30 full treatment at Doe Day Spa if you show this text to reception before Thurs, 21 Feb. Book now at

That’s 140 characters, including the URL

When do I send the message?

More care needs to be taken with SMS marketing regarding when you send your message as compared to other communication mediums, such as email or Facebook. Most people will have their phones on them at all times of the day and night, so while this can be used to market to them at any given time, it can also annoy them if you’re insensitive to their schedules.

Here’s the best times to send SMS messages:

  • No one likes Mondays: Unless your message is related to that specific date (or a reminder), Mondays have shown the lowest response most likely due to the overwhelming content that people receive after weekend via email, television and mail.
  • Avoid rush hour: Since it is text messaging, people cannot read or engage with a text message during common rush hours, typically 6:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. local time.
  • Be respectful: Not too early in the morning and not too late at night. Think about when users would want to accept a phone call. A text message has a similar alert method and people typically don’t want to be bothered at those times.
  • Drive midday foot traffic: Trying to drive people into your establishment during lunch hours?  Send out your blast at 11:30 a.m. local time to catch those who are making lunch plans and even add an offer to incentivize the visit instead of treating it as a plain advertisement.
  • Drive in-store weekend foot traffic: Thursdays is a popular day to send text messages as it results in strong response rates, and Fridays between 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. have shown great success for retailers.

This graph shows what times people are using their phones during a workday, even though they may have their devices on them at all times.

In Timely, you can set the times when your text messages send by going to Setup > SMS settings, then scrolling down to SMS time restrictions.

How often do I send messages out?

Text messages are fairly intrusive, so you should only be sending out a message when you’ve got something of value to offer, and when your customers can take you up on it.

If you’re a salon, how often do your customers come in? If they only need a cut every four weeks, then sending them a text message every week is going to annoy them and cause them to ignore you, or worse, unsubscribe.

Having said that, you won’t be able to reach all of your customers at the right frequency every four weeks, since there will be some that have come in one week ago, and some that came in four weeks ago. If you have a mutual understanding with your customers that you’re going to message them when you have deals that give them value, you will be able to increase the frequency of your SMS marketing without an adverse reaction.

Should I use SMS as well as email or social media marketing?

Yes. Yes you should. The key to using different networks or methods of communication for the same marketing campaign is to tailor your message and make it exclusive to each audience. If you’re giving the same deal away everywhere, you might get more people taking you up on the offer in the short term, but you won’t get the loyalty that comes from exclusive offers. If your customers can access the same deal you’re giving them through SMS marketing on Facebook or through email, then why would they stay on your SMS marketing list and engage with your messages?